UCLA brought in what was hailed as the top men's soccer recruiting class of 2010, and Bruins coach Jorge Salcedo has put them to work -- some a bit earlier than expected -- and they have delivered.
The Bruins, 5-2-1 and ranked No. 20 in the nation by the NSCAA, have started between five and seven freshmen in every match. The team's top two scorers are freshmen and a third first-year player netted the game-winning goal in UCLA's most recent contest, leaving Salcedo excited about the present and the future.
Front and center on the offense are freshmen Kelyn Rowe, Victor Chavez and Reed Williams, who have combined to score seven of UCLA's 12 goals this year. Rowe, Chavez, Patrick Matchett and Andrew Tusaazemajja have combined for 12 of 17 assists. Midfielder Zack Foxhoven and defenders Joe Sofia and Reid Hukari have all played in at least six matches, and every freshman who has played has started at least twice.
"What they've done so far is tremendous," Salcedo said.
"For the majority of the group, I thought it would take some time to adapt to the rigors of college soccer -- the speed of play and the ability to compete on a daily basis," Salcedo added. "Those are all extremely important components of the game and it's incredibly hard for freshmen to have that type of experience. But this group understands what it takes to be successful."
Rowe has a team-best three goals and three assists. Chavez has chipped in with two goals and three assists. Williams has a pair of goals. This is all for a UCLA team that is carrying only two seniors on the roster -- both of whom are goalkeepers.
Salcedo said the players UCLA lost to graduation and professional soccer after last year's season created a need for freshmen to contribute earlier in their careers than is generally the case at UCLA.
"We're a very young team this year and it's kind of a building year for us, but the next couple years, with experience and the starting lineup already, we should have a great team," Rowe said.
Rowe, who wears the No. 10 jersey, and Chavez were considered starting material when they arrived at UCLA. But it took an injury to sophomore standout Chandler Hoffman to provide Williams with playing time, and the local product has capitalized on the opportunity.
On Sunday, Williams -- who led his high school team to a Southern California regional championship and a No. 2 national ranking only six months ago -- netted a game-winning goal in the 85th minute as UCLA edged Cal State Fullerton 3-2. The winning score was set up by a feed from Matchett.
Despite the early success, Rowe and Williams admitted that the jump from high school and club soccer to the college game was filled with nervous moments.
"I remember coming in on the first practice, and it was a little overwhelming," Williams said. "It was such a big transition. The speed of the game and your touch needs to be so much sharper. You don't have 10 chances like you do in high school. You might have one or two per game and you have to capitalize."
Rowe, who has started all eight matches, added: "I remember how nervous I was [in the season opener against Notre Dame]. When I stepped on the field, I was just about shaking. I looked at the guy across from me and I met him on my recruiting visit [to Notre Dame]. He shook my hand, said 'Hello' and then said, 'Good luck.' From then on, I thought, 'Ah, I'm in good hands. I'll be OK.'"
"They are learning on the fly," Salcedo said, "but also are being successful at doing it as well."
Around the nation
ESPN jinx?: Two weeks ago, we featured Justin Davies, the younger brother of former U.S. men's national team player Charlie Davies. At the time, the younger Davis, a college junior, had netted his first two college goals. The jinx: He hasn't scored since. The good news: San Diego State is winning anyway, improving its record to 6-1-1 with a seven-match undefeated streak. Last week, we featured Monmouth University, with one of the few perfect records in Division I soccer and a No. 4 ranking in the NSCAA Top 25 poll -- the highest-ever ranking by Monmouth in any sport during its NCAA Division I tenure. The jinx: Monmouth lost this past weekend to Loyola (Md.). The good news: Monmouth (6-1) is still ranked No. 10 in this week's NSCAA poll.
Recruiting road: Kingsley Bryce of Plano, Texas, verbally committed to St. Louis University, strengthening a unique relationship between SLU and a Texas high school. Bryce, whose older brother Charles plays for St. Louis, will become the fourth Jesuit College Prep (Dallas, Texas) player on SLU's roster. Chaminade, a local high school soccer power, currently has four players on SLU's roster. Home may be where the victories start for Clemson in the future. This one-time national power has dipped to the bottom of the ACC while recruiting largely in the Southeast. During its heyday, which included a pair of national titles in the 1980s, Clemson used to mine the international market for talent. More recently, the focus has been recruiting talent-heavy Georgia. Now, with South Carolina youth soccer on the rise, Clemson appears to be back in the market for homegrown players. Of the program's six verbals for the Class of 2011, three are from South Carolina, which matches the entire number of South Carolina players on the Tigers' current roster (only one of whom has played this year). South Carolina's most recent verbal came from Alex Burnikel, a defender who plays club soccer for a successful CESA Premier squad. Clemson has been this year's hard-luck team, sporting a 1-4-1 record with all but one match decided by a single goal.
For the latest verbal commitment information, visit ESPNRISE.com.
Sheldon Shealer is the soccer editor of ESPNRISE.com, ESPN's high school sports site.